Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46 (Pentecost 19: Series A)

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The parable makes obvious what is rarely apparent: God is the absolute Lord of all, and human rebellion is both wicked and futile.

David Schmitt has written about preaching as the weaving together of four threads of discourse into the tapestry of a sermon. They are textual exposition, theological confession, evangelical proclamation, and hearer interpretation.[1] These threads do not necessarily provide a structure or outline for the sermon, nor do they each constitute a quarter of the sermon’s length or force. Some preaching occasions will emphasize some threads more than others, but together they make up the kinds of things the preacher has been called to attend to and proclaim.

You probably tend to work with one of the threads more than some others. Take this as both an affirmation and a challenge. Each one of these is a good gift for God’s people; whichever of these you default to, it is a good thing to preach. It is also good to bring all of these in our preaching. Consider which one(s) your people have not heard as much on recently and challenge yourself to develop it this week more fully.

Textual Exposition

“Textual exposition communicates the intended meaning of the text in its historical context” (109).

In Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus is speaking a parable against the religious leaders of Israel in the first century, both personally and as representatives of many of Israel’s leaders before them. Jesus begins with the image of a vineyard established by Isaiah 5. However, here the emphasis is not on whether or not the vineyard is fruitful. Rather, Jesus is focusing on the faithfulness of those entrusted with the vineyard (that is, those called to lead God’s people Israel).

God the Father is the master of the house, the people of Israel are his vineyard, and the tenants are those who were entrusted with leadership. The servants sent are the prophets whose content as well as their very selves were often rejected. Jesus is the son, sent from the master. Even before his own rejection in Jerusalem, He is fully aware of His part to play in all this.

Like David’s reaction to Nathan’s parable, verse 41 shows how the original hearers were able to recognize the obvious force of what was being said. But unlike David who repented, the hearers in Matthew 21 do not respond with faith.

Theological Confession

With respect to theological confession, “The preacher makes confession of the teachings of the faith” (112). These teachings typically “reveal the nature and work of God, the nature and work of humans, and the relationship between the two” (113).

Several teachings of Scripture are touched on here in Matthew 21. “Hear another parable” touches on the nature of God’s Word. Sometimes God speaks to convince, illustrate, or teach. And sometimes God simply proclaims. Such a proclamation accomplishes His will, both judging and saving.

Sometimes God speaks to convince, illustrate, or teach. And sometimes God simply proclaims.

We also see God is the Lord of history. Jesus loads the activities of generations of people into a few short verses. What the faithful prophets experienced in real time, often over months or years of rejection, is condensed into, “And they did the same to them.”

The rebellion of the human heart can be staggering. The parable makes obvious what is rarely apparent: God is the absolute Lord of all, and human rebellion is both wicked and futile. The schemes of the tenants will certainly fail, and they will get what they deserve.

“Thy will be done.” God’s will absolutely will be done. Though seemingly absent, He has not abandoned His people or slackened His expectations. The force of God’s love will not be hindered or deterred by whatever wicked powers oppose Him. He is willing to send His own Son, even if it costs His life. God has a plan, and He will accomplish it.

Evangelical Proclamation

In evangelical proclamation “we enact Christ’s command that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name” (116).

The people in your pews are not first century Pharisees. This parable is not primarily directed at them. But overhearing God’s call for the Pharisees’ repentance can certainly serve to call us to repentance as well. How have we withheld from God what is His? How have we acted arrogantly in light of God’s apparent absence or impotence? As the tenants took no thought of the son’s well-being, “Do we pass the cross unheeding, breathing no repentant vow?”

Yet, it is through the cross where Christ is killed for our rebellion that God Himself provides a refuge and a cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is most marvelous. Jesus knew the stakes. He knew His life was at risk. He knew what happened to the previous servants sent by the Master. Nevertheless, this Servant comes willing to suffer. The Kingdom and gracious reign of God will not be thwarted. It will be accomplished in the Son and given to a people producing its fruit. The fruit of the Spirit, in this instance, is the gift of faith.

Through faith in Jesus, the sent, suffering, and now seated Son of the Master, the Kingdom is ours forever!

Hearer Interpretation

“Hearer interpretation helps your hearers to see themselves with the eyes of God and to interpret their lives as having a God-given place within God’s Kingdom” (120).

You are not composing a sermon for a collection of your works to be published posthumously. You are preaching to the real people seated before you.

You are not composing a sermon for a collection of your works to be published posthumously. You are preaching to the real people seated before you.

Can you share an everyday example of what it looks like (or sounds like in someone’s inner monologue) to think and act as if God were absent or impotent, as the tenants suppose?

Perhaps you have people who are feeling the discouragement of their Christian witness not gaining any traction. Can you craft a moment which merges their experience with the second group of servants sent to the vineyard? This would allow you to provide language to validate an experience that is both anxious and confident at the same time.

Maybe a Gospel moment is the image of the cornerstone. In everything that fluctuates or fails, Christ is victorious, even as He was rejected. Imagine God fully answered your prayer for this weekend, and someone actually heard and believed your message, and this specific proclamation made a difference on their Wednesday morning or Thursday lunch break. What would that actually look like? Tell the story. Set it up with, “So, people of God, here is why this matters. You wake up three mornings from now and...” Then describe the concrete details of what such faith looks like.

In conclusion to our discussion of these themes of preaching as we see them in Matthew 21, the parable shows us the Son at the heart of all things. Jesus is our cornerstone. He is the center of the Scriptures. He is the heart of our proclamation. In each of the four threads, Jesus comes to His people. You have been uniquely called to craft a message for your context. You can be faithful and fruitful in the task entrusted to you, even as you experience the freedom of emphasizing different threads differently in your own weaving this week.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 21:33-46.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 21:33-46.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 21:33-46.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] See David Schmitt. “The Tapestry of Preaching.” Concordia Journal 37, no. 2. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Seminary, 2011. 107–129. https://issuu.com/concordiasem/docs/cjspring11